Just three years ago Matt Wilkinson was on the podium ringing the Bell. It was hard to believe. His mind boggling performance shot him straight into the world title race. His bar tab at the after party solidified his legend status.

Fast forward to 2019 and Wilko has dropped off the tour, relegated to the QS and pouring his energy into a restaurant and boutique accommodation venture in the Byron Bay hinterland.

So why didn’t his major sponsor throw him a lifeline to arguably the grand slam event of the Australian leg of the tour?

His win in 2016 was one for the ages and his popularity alone is a major drawcard.

A result at Bells would have also ensured he could creep up the QS with some much needed points. He currently sits in 96th place on the qualifying tour.

Wilko's bartab after his Bells win is enough to give you liver failure by just looking at it.

Given the success of Mikey Wright in 2018 who pounced on CT wildcards which he capitalised on to fast track a spot on the CT you’d think someone with as much talent as Wilko would be provided the same good fortune.

But maybe pro surfing’s last court jester is simply burnt out and over the grind of competition and he’s looking at act two as a Search pilot with Mick and co. while steering his business interests and setting up a plum retirement plan.

There is a huge void in Australian surfing right now. Without Mick, Parko and Wilko the remaining Aussies on tour are getting thinner by the year. Ace is set to retire at the end of the season which leaves R-Cal, Owen, Julian, Wade, Freestone and rookies Soli and Mikey to fly the flag and hold off a surging Brazilian Storm.

Without unpredictable characters like Wilko, pro surfing also loses a bit more of its cache of cool. The roller skates and themed wetsuits may  be long gone from Wilko’s act but his entertainment value remains.

Who doesn’t love an underdog that can bring the unexpected?

Perhaps once was enough for Wilko. Photo: WSL/Sloane